Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Year of Hamlet' Wraps Up with Players' Stoppard

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Year of Hamlet' Wraps Up with Players' Stoppard

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Faulkner, Shorelines correspondent

Jacksonville's unofficial Year of Hamlet begins its end Friday with Players By-The-Sea's opening of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard's retelling of Shakespeare's classic.

This is the fifth production related to the life and death of the Danish prince staged during the current local theater season.

Although Hamlet is considered by many to be the greatest tragedy, even the greatest play, ever written, Stoppard's work tells portions of the story with a comic flair. He does this by staging the play's events through the eyes of Hamlet's friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, summoned from college by the king to find out what troubles his stepson-nephew.

It's an absurd and often funny situation, particularly as Hamlet and the king scheme against each other while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try and figure out what exactly is happening and, more importantly, what exactly they're supposed to be doing. But it also lets Stoppard explore many of the same issues Shakespeare did in his original work.

"Of course, the biggest issue is confronting our own mortality," said Holly Gutshall, director of the Players production. "The first issue that confronts us is our own identity, the big one at the end is going to be confronting the fact that we die, that we're not going to have this identity forever. Although Tom Stoppard takes a very witty and a very funny approach to these issues while Shakespeare took the tragic one, there really are a lot of very thoughtful meanings underlying the comedy."

Gutshall said she first saw Rosencrantz & Guildenstern staged years ago on Broadway, and it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable events.

"It was literally an out-of-the-body experience," she said. "I totally forgot that I was in a theater watching a play. When the lights came up at the end of the show, I had that moment of , 'Oh, where am I?' It was really a magical experience for me at a very impressionable age. I always, always loved this play."

Oddly enough for someone who's been involved with theater most of her life, Gutshall never was a big fan of Hamlet. Until she took on the role of Gertrude in the BackLight Productions staging of the play in August, she never gave the play much consideration, opting instead to act in many stagings of Shakespeare's comedies.

Gutshall took the Hamlet part so she could work with BackLight founder Devlin Mann; in researching her character, she developed a new appreciation for the work. Hamlet's enigmatic story and multiple levels of complexity enthralled her. With Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Gutshall said, Stoppard also is able to recreate that complexity and comedy.

"The thing about Stoppard is he's just so brilliant, he's just such a brilliant thinker," Gutshall said. …

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